By Jim White
From the start it was obvious where the opening ceremony for the 2023 Ryder Cup was going. Sky was sharing coverage with NBC, whose earnest continuity announcer boldly refused to avoid cliche as he set the scene. Over pictures of ancient Rome, he informed us that the 24 players involved were about to “battle it out like modern-day gladiators in the Eternal City”. Well, not quite.
We know things can get pretty competitive in the heat of Ryder Cup exchanges, but it is not exactly like what Russell Crowe and his mates faced in the Colosseum back in the day. There was very little golf played then in the ancient arena.
Though maybe it might add another element of jeopardy to this year’s competition were someone, as was custom in Roman times, to deliver judgment on performance via the turn of a thumb. It would certainly concentrate the mind ahead of a three-foot putt. And if they were looking for volunteers to conduct such lethal critique, Novak Djokovic, one of the celebrity guests at the ceremony, looks like a man who would be more than happy to take on the role.
As the Ryder Cup has grown over the decades so has its procedures and expectations. If not at the Olympic or World Cup level of choreography, its opening ceremony is still quite a thing, albeit shorn of interpretative dance and stilt walkers.
And there was no doubt who emerged from this edition as the star turn. In what fans of the European team hope might be an augury of what is to come, Luke Donald was easily the best thing on show. The European captain gave a magnificent speech, endearing himself to the local crowd by opening up with several sentences in crisp, whole-hearted Italian.
Like Carly Paoli, the singer from Mansfield who delivered the Italian anthem with equal flourish, Donald channelled his inner Carlo Ancelotti to relish every brow-lifting vowel. Not every English person, seemingly, is hopeless at foreign languages. The applause when he added how much he had enjoyed his honeymoon in Sardinia was significant.
By comparison his opposite number Zach Johnson could only mangle a brief “buongiorno” at the start of his speech. Mind, it was hard not to sympathise with the United States captain. Like all his team elegantly suited, booted and yet oddly sock free, he suffered continuous interruption. There were the noisy chants of “ole, ole, ole” from the European fans, then, just as he was getting into his stride, came a deafening overpass by a dozen fighter planes trailing coloured smoke in their jet streams. In truth, it was probably not the first time the Italian Air Force had messed up its cue.
For all the nostalgic footage playing out on the big screen of previous contests, this was a ceremony unlike any other sporting equivalent in that it carried a crucial purpose at its heart. Donald and Johnson disclosed to the noisy bystanders (and the hordes on both sides of the Atlantic watching on television) who would make up their pairs for the opening exchanges on Friday morning.
You could tell this was the bit that meant the most to those in attendance, because the moment the announcements had been made the cameras swept the crowd revealing dozens heading for the exits, perhaps in search of the course bookmakers. That was happening even as the main entertainment from Tom Grennan (no, me neither) was underway.
As Grennan urgently failed to get the serried ranks of blazers in the audience to join in his chorus that went “uh-uh-uh”, you were reminded that, as far as opening-ceremony entertainment goes, this was not quite at the level of Mr Bean leading the London Symphony Orchestra through a rendition of the Chariots of Fire theme.
Still, it was short and sweet. And the pictures shared on the big screen of the host venue, the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club, suggest we will, over the next few days, be treated to some sumptuous views.
Meanwhile, over the closing shots, the bloke from NBC, clearly a stranger to originality, intoned “Carpe Diem”. There will be quite a lot of that sort of language, you suspect, over the next few days.
05:09 PM BST
Our experts' verdict on the pairings
Zach Johnson's selections are slightly eccentric – not choosing Brooks Koepka who has a temperament tailor-made for this format' 🇺🇸
🎙️@oliverbrown_tel & @tomcary_tel with their thoughts as Europe and US reveal their opening Ryder Cup pairings
#TelegraphSport I #RyderCup2023 pic.twitter.com/uEvIdYQ5dk
— Telegraph Sport (@TelegraphSport) September 28, 2023
05:04 PM BST
Ryder Cup handbook
If you’re a causal fan and don’t want to make any gaffes in front of your mates, check out Telegraph Sport’s easy handbook to guide you through the format of the Ryder Cup.
05:02 PM BST
The golfers left out of Team Europe
Three Ryder Cup stalwarts who will not be in Italy this weekend are Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood after they made themselves ineligible by joining LIV and resigning their European tour memberships.
Rory McIlroy said this week the trio will “miss being here” more than Europe’s new team miss them, reported Tom Morgan.
05:00 PM BST
Zach Johnson on leaving players out
"I wanted to play all twelve players for every session, but we cannot!" 😅
USA Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson reveals it was a tough decision to leave out some players for his teams day one pairings 🇺🇸⛳ pic.twitter.com/sLnabBByW8
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) September 28, 2023
04:48 PM BST
Zach Johnson on boos for Koepka
I didn’t hear anything. It’s hard to hear from the stage.
I know Brookes well enough to know that he’s very secure in himself, and I know that his 11 team-mates are very secure in him.
The way we approach it is all that’s important.
04:47 PM BST
Zach Johnson on selecting two rookies for tomorrow
History will show that being a rookie is really almost irrelevant.
He hasn’t played in a Ryder Cup but he knows team matches.
Those two guys [Max Homer and Brian Harman] bond and mesh so well together both on and off the golf course, so it’s a very natural fit.
[I had] zero hesitation.
04:41 PM BST
Zach Johnson on those left out - 'It's not about form'
Unfortunately I can’t play all 12 each session, so at some point somebody’s got to sit.
It’s a golf course that demands a lot out of you physically.
The eight guys I have down on paper are the guys I feel will put us in the position to have the best start.
I have the utmost confidence in these eight and the utmost confidence in Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas [who have been left out].
It’s not about their form, they’re playing great. It’s really a matter of trying to dissect all five sessions.
04:38 PM BST
Zach Johnson on his mindset
Feel great. Really at peace with where things are. Extremely confident with our 12 guys.
04:32 PM BST
Brooks Koepka snubbed
One surprise omission from the opening morning of play is that of Brooks Koepka.
The American is the only LIV player competing at Marco Simone and was booed as his name was read out in the opening ceremony.
He will have to wait for his first chance to get out on the Italian course.
04:24 PM BST
Donald's explanation of pairings
Do they match up, are they suited to that format of golf, and how are their personalities - do they get along well.
Check out James Corrigan’s piece for more on “team angry” Tyrrell Hatton and Jon Rahm’s unique bond.
"We've got four amazing pairings, I am excited to see how they do!" 🤩
Europe Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald on his selection for the tournament's day one pairings 🗣🏆 pic.twitter.com/N3i9NV7ejr
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) September 28, 2023
04:22 PM BST
Those sitting out the first session tomorrow
Europe: Matt Fitzpatrick, Nicolai Hojgaard, Robert MacIntyre and Justin Rose
USA: Wyndham Clark, Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.
04:21 PM BST
Bizarre question to Luke Donald
The European captain is asked about who his American-born wife Diane Antonopoulos will be supporting.
Donald met the question with an icy look as he explained that his wife’s parents were born in Greece and that she’s her husband’s No. 1 fan, so it’s not a problem.
04:19 PM BST
I feel like this is as excited and as ready group as I’ve been a part of.
We know the task at hand. It’s a really strong American team and they have a lot of really tough partnerships. We’re going up against one tomorrow in Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay.
04:16 PM BST
Anybody playing with Rory’s going to be a good partnership.
I’m really excited to play together.
Rory’s been a huge part of my Ryder Cup story.
Our games gel well, we get on very well.
04:06 PM BST
With the big announcement made, golf fans would be forgiven for presuming the ceremony will now wind up. Not so.
First we hear from tennis player Novak Djokovic, F1 driver Carlos Sainz and actor Kathryn Newton. All presumably golf luminaries in their own right.
The show is then wrapped up with a secondary musical offering from Tom Grennan - a singer from Bedford.
To add spice to his earlier performance which opened the show, he adds an element of audience interaction this time, asking Rory McIlroy how it’s going?
“Good,” McIlroy replies. There you have it, folks.
Novak Djokovic, Matteo Berrettini and Carlos Sainz at the Ryder Cup in Rome pic.twitter.com/AXcCQcCM8u
— Mario Boccardi (@marioboc17) September 28, 2023
04:00 PM BST
The Foursome pairs in full
Pair one: 6.35am
Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns vs Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton
Pair two: 6.50am
Ludvig Aberg and Viktor Hovland vs Max Homer and Brian Harman
Pair Three: 7.05am
Rickie Fowler and Collin Morikawa vs Shane Lowry and Sepp Straka
Pair Four: 7.20am
Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay vs Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood
— Ryder Cup (@rydercup) September 28, 2023
03:55 PM BST
James Corrigan on the teams
Luke Donald will be thrilled at those match-ups in the foursomes. Cannot quite believe that Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas are benched. An absolute humdinger in the bottom game. McIlroy and Fleetwood versus Cantlay and Schauffele. Think Europe will take a lead on the opening morning.
03:53 PM BST
Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay vs “Fleetwood Mac” Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood
03:52 PM BST
Rickie Fowler and Collin Morikawa vs Shane Lowry and Sepp Straka.
03:51 PM BST
Ludvig Aberg Viktor Hovland vs Max Homer and Brian Harman
03:50 PM BST
The pairs - pair one
Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns will play “team angry” of Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton.
03:49 PM BST
Match one is about to be revealed.
03:48 PM BST
The biggest cheers go to Ryder Cup rookie, Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre, and of course Rory McIlroy.
03:46 PM BST
Luke Donald - “I am humbled and honoured"
The European captain takes the stage and also opts to start his speech in Italian.
He describes his captaincy as “the most important moment in my entire golfing career”, adding: “I am humbled and honoured to lead these 12 incredible golfers behind me.”
The four-time Ryder Cup player also puts out a couple of big thank you’s - first to the fans and then to the caddies.
“To the fans: You are our 13trh man. Let’s make this week the loudest Ryder Cup ever,” he said.
The crowd lap this up with more chants of “olay”.
— Ryder Cup Europe (@RyderCupEurope) September 28, 2023
03:37 PM BST
Zach Johnson's fluent Italian
After a rambunctious intro, the American captain wobbled at the peroration as he struggled with the pronunciation of “grazie”. Full marks for trying though.
The US team have been introduced and the anthem played. Now. it’s time for Luke Donald to take to the stage.
03:33 PM BST
The Ryder cup is simply the best competition in golf.
The Ryder Cup may be the perfect form of competition.
This week, here at Marco Simone, you will see incredible shot making, you will see players of both sides stare into the magnitude and weight of the moment and hit incredible shots.
As he reads out the team, their are rapturous cheers for all, except for Brooks Koepka, who was greeted with boos. Could this be a subtle dig at LIV from the travelling fans?
03:32 PM BST
The captain gives a heart-rending explanation of where his golf journey started in Iowa.
This is followed by special mentions galore with thank yous dished out to various federations and former coaches.
03:28 PM BST
Zach Johnson's speech
After an impassioned performance of the Italian national anthem, the US captain steps up to the mic.
He greets the crowd with a shout of “thank you and good afternoon” - in fluent Italian, clearly.
This is greeted with football crowd-style chants of “Olay” and a fly-by from a fleet of fighter jets that leave a smoke trail of the Italian flag.
Johnson looks up with a mixture of impressed bemusement. You couldn’t make it up.
03:24 PM BST
Now time for team Europe
Team Europe, led by captain Luke Donald, now shuffle onto the stage.
America may be perceived as the dominant force going into this year’s edition of the tournament, but fans of team Europe will draw optimism from the fact that Donald has never lost the Cup as a player, and he is followed by a strong team with nine majors and 42 Ryder Cup points between them.
A reminder of who is in team Europe:
Rory McIlroy (Northern Ireland)
Jon Rahm (Spain)
Bob MacIntyre (Scotland)
Viktor Hovland (Norway)
Tyrrell Hatton (England)
Matt Fitzpatrick (England)
Tommy Fleetwood (England)
Sepp Straka (Austria)
Justin Rose (England)
Shane Lowry (Ireland)
Nicolai Hojgaard (Denmark)
Ludvig Aberg (Sweden)
— Ryder Cup Europe (@RyderCupEurope) September 28, 2023
03:19 PM BST
US team march out on stage
Here come the US team led by Captain Zach Johnson and his five experienced vice captains.
A reminder of the US team:
03:17 PM BST
McIlroy becomes Ryder Cup elder statesman
Rory McIlroy comes into the Ryder Cup with more tournaments under his belt than any player on either team.
Since his first tournament, there have been many memorable moments for McIlroy — a pivotal halve he earned against Stewart Cink in Wales in 2010, his fist-pumping, decibel-raising shouts against Patrick Reed at Hazeltine in 2016 and the tears during the loss at Whistling Straits in 2021.
Oliver Brown looks at Rory McIlroy’s long, emotional and sometimes chaotic relationship with the Ryder Cup.
As a 20-year-old he treated the event with disdain, but now he is a passionate advocate of it and elder statesman of Team Europe who has the ability to determine the outcome in Italy.
03:10 PM BST
There has been much speculation in recent days over pairings for the tournament as golf-savants seek to read the runes inside the minds of captains Luke Donald and Zach Johnson.
Will Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton, aka “Team Angry”, reprise their winning partnership from Whistling Straits? Will Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood match up to produce a gloriously punny Fleetwood Mac pairing?
How the teams were paired in practice offered plenty of clues — the Scandinavia duo of Hovland and Ludvig Aberg of Sweden, the English duo of U.S. Open champions Justin Rose and Matt Fitzpatrick.
However, European captain Luke Donald cautioned not to read too much into that — those who went off first had media obligations later in the day.
“We do have a plan in place, and that plan can be adjusted throughout the next few days,” he said. “The vice captains are out there watching the players and seeing how they look and how they feel and all that goes into it.”
For the Americans, it was obvious even before practice rounds. Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele have been partners since their first Presidents Cup in 2019 (with one exception at Whistling Straits), while Thomas and Jordan Spieth have been friends since they were in their early teens and partners dating to 2018.
02:57 PM BST
Opening ceremony kicks off at 3pm
Hello and welcome to Telegraph Sport’s coverage of the Ryder Cup 2023 opening ceremony.
The 44th edition of the tournament gets under way tomorrow at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club in Rome with team Europe looking to defend their 30-year winning streak on home soil.
Captain Luke Donald will have his work cut out for him though, coming off the back of a record 19-9 defeat at Whistling Straits in 2021.
Europe have three of the top four ranked players in their team in Rory McIlroy - who has played in more Ryder Cups than any player on either team - Viktor Hovland and Jon Rahm - who has been Europe’s top player over the last two years.
But the US, captained by Zach Johnson, currently dominate the world rankings with 10 of their 12 players ranked inside the world top 20, including world No 1 Scottie Scheffler.
How the teams will pair up for tomorrow’s foursomes and fourballs has been the subject of much speculation in recent days, with the announcement due to be made during the opening ceremony.
Speaking about the significance of the Ryder Cup, McIlroy said on Wednesday: “In 2009, I was just so focused on myself and trying to get my career off the ground that I felt like I had bigger and better things to achieve for my individual goals.
“I’m still very, very proud and probably proudest of the things I’ve done as an individual,” he said. “But nothing — nothing — beats this week. It’s an amazing experience and I want to be a part of it for as long as I can.”
Stay tuned for all the latest live updates!